No question that rank carries privilege and privilege carries fame. This time it belongs to an Indian prince who came out as gay in 2005 and shocked his family and fascinated the Indian public.
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of the Rajpipla region in the state of Gujarat, the westernmost state in India (Mahatma Gandhi was also born in Gujarat) decided he could no longer live the heterosexual life his family expected. After a marriage debacle Gohil announced his homosexuality and was immediately disowned by his royal family.
Not a shrinking flower, Gohil publicized his ‘coming out’ on the Oprah show in 2007 and proved to be a charming, articulate and intelligent spokesman for gay authenticity and gay rights. Since then he has traveled the world speaking out against discrimination.
Instead of withdrawing behind gilded walls and silken pillows he has taken on charitable projects that include a hospital for HIV infected people and, most recently, building India’s first retirement home for elderly gays and lesbians (expected to open in late 2009).
Gohil’s coming out in ’05 happened coincidentally with a vigorous and determined campaign by courageous Indian activists to decriminalize homosexuality in India. In July of this year the Delhi High Court struck down India’s colonial era anti-gay law.
He and his family have reconciled as they have come to see him as a more empowered and purposeful person. In 2000, before coming out, he started the Lakshya Trust, a community-based organization that now provides support and education for HIV/AIDS prevention among men who have sex with men (MSMs). Lakshya Trust today runs three centers where men get health information, social support and counseling services.
The Trust has grown to become a research surveillance site for the Government of India’s National AIDS Control Organization and was awarded the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) Civil Society Award in 2006. His Highness is also the India regional representative on the Executive Board of the Asia-Pacific Coalition of Male Sexual Health (APCOM), a regional network addressing HIV issues affecting gay men and
The most remarkable aspect of this man is not his royal trappings or his constructed buildings or his charity organization but his out and proud gay presence in the vastly homophobic Indian culture. This is a place that has for over a century vilified, condemned, punished and beaten anyone caught or admitting to homosexual activity.
There are many out gay activists in India today and have braved the scorn of the populace and been brushed aside by a ‘high society’ brainwashed by punitive and archaic British anti-gay laws. It is easy to reject gay ‘commoners’ with no pedigree other than their intelligence and advanced university degrees. But it is not so easy to dismiss the blue-blood heir of a 650 year-old aristocratic dynasty, even though it carries no legal power today. In India reputation, rank andstatus have a persuasion that transcend normal social attitudes and carry authority and legitimacy above the ordinary.
Prince Gohil cannot be said to be heroic but he has un-common distinction and being homosexual he has unusual distinction as well, and he is choosing to use his distinct position to carry the message of social equality more noticeably than any non-royal can.
And that takes courage. To bring light into darkness. To bring tolerance into bigotry. To bring dignity to the outcast and compassion to the rejected. That is the true royalty of this man.
by Richard Ammon, GlobalGayz.com